Michigan coalition seeks to raise minimum wage through ballot proposal

MLive article by Melissa Anders:

LANSING — A coalition of labor and civil rights groups have formed a committee that could push for a ballot proposal to raise Michigan’s minimum wage.

The organizations on Monday said they were going to submit paperwork to the Michigan Secretary of State to form a ballot proposal committee. They plan to make a formal decision on moving forward with a campaign for the Nov. 2014 ballot in the next few weeks.

Michigan last increased its minimum wage to $7.40 per hour in 2008. It is among 21 states with a minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25.

The coalition hasn’t announced specific numbers yet, but wants to raise both the regular minimum wage as well as the minimum for tipped employees, which has been $2.65 per hour for about 22 years.

“We know we have public support for this; it’s just common sense that if you’re working 40 hours a week you should be making enough to support your family,” said Danielle Atkinson, director of Mothering Justice, one of the coalition members.

The news comes one day before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, a forum which Obama has used in the past to push for a federal minimum wage increase, and he is expected to discuss income inequality on Tuesday.

Workers and activists held several protests throughout Michigan and nationwide last year to call for an increase in the state and federal minimum wages.

And lawmakers in at least 30 states are sponsoring or are expected to introduce wage hike measures, according to a national review by The Associated Press. They hope to notch state-level victories as Obama and congressional Democrats remain stymied in attempts to raise the federal minimum wage above $7.25 an hour.

In Michigan, Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Detroit, introduced legislation to increase the state’s minimum wage from $7.40 to $10 per hour by 2016. He introduced a similar bill last session that never made it out of committee. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer has proposed a minimum wage hike to $9.25 per hour.

Opponents, many of them Republicans, argue that the higher wages translate into fewer jobs and higher consumer costs. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott said the claim that working families need the boost to make ends meet makes him “cringe, because I know that statement is a lie,” noting that even with a higher minimum wage, families couldn’t make ends meet, according to the AP. He said he’s focused instead on creating better jobs and careers.

“Our politicians in both Lansing and Congress have failed us, so we have to start looking at other ways to move this issue forward and get people a raise,” said Frank Houston, chair of the Oakland County Democratic Party and consultant for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan. “It’s ridiculous that working people have had to wait on politicians to get this done when there is overwhelming support. It’s really unacceptable.”

Muskegon resident Shannon Bryson, 33, is a single mom with two kids and earns minimum wage working part time at a fast food restaurant.

“By the time I pay for gas to get to and from work, there’s not much left of my pay check,” she said in a statement. “Raising the minimum wage could do a lot for mothers like me. I see people evicted from their homes because they don’t earn enough to pay their rent, and during this cold, cold winter, I see children whose parents can’t afford to dress them warmly enough.”

The coalition includes the Center for Progressive Leadership, Michigan United, MOSES, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of (ROC) Michigan, Mothering Justice and Building Movement Project/People’s Platform.

MLive reporter Jonathan Oosting and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Email Melissa Anders at manders@mlive.com. Follow her on Google+ and Twitter: @MelissaDAnders. Download the MLive app for iPhone and Android

Ballot Effort Underway To Raise Michigan Minimum Wage


LANSING  – Groups backing an increase in Michigan’s minimum wage laid the groundwork Monday for a statewide ballot drive in November, forming a committee that is very likely to commence with collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to qualify.

“People who work hard, shouldn’t have to wait for out of touch politicians to act and do the right thing – and raise the minimum wage,” said Rebecca Hatley-Watkins, 23, of Kalamazoo, who is married, the mother of one and a Michigan United member. “If you work full-time you shouldn’t live in poverty.”

“It is impossible to raise a child on a job that pays minimum wage. I worked full time and still only brought home one third of the amount I needed to get a decent apartment. Not to mention childcare costs. Sometimes it feels like I am just working to pay someone else to raise my child,” said Cori Johnson, a 24 year-old mother of one in Detroit who is a member of Mothering Justice.

Gov. Rick Snyder and various state legislative leaders have indicated that they will not take up the bills this year. Last fall, Snyder stated that raising the minimum wage was not a “significant issue” for his administration, and that raising minimum wage could have negative consequences.

“Our politicians in Lansing and D.C. have failed workers. There are a lot of people who work hard who’ve been waiting for a raise,” said Frank Houston, treasurer of the Raise Michigan ballot committee.

Michigan’s $7.40-an-hour minimum wage last went up in 2008 and is slightly higher than the $7.25 federal hourly minimum. Republicans have not embraced calls by both President Barack Obama and Michigan Democrats to raise the minimum wage to $10 at the federal and state levels. Democrats are planning to make income inequality a top issue this election year.

“All indications are that we’re highly likely to move forward,” said Houston, who also is chairman of the Oakland County Democratic Party. “We fully expect Michigan to be the No. 1 place in the country where we’re having a conversation around economic dignity and inequality.”

The coalition involved includes labor unions, community organizers, a restaurant worker center, and faith-based and civil rights groups. The groups sent out statements Monday from low-wage mothers who said their income is not enough to get by.

“If you work full-time you shouldn’t live in poverty,” said Rebecca Hatley-Watkins, 23, of Kalamazoo.

Shannon Bryson, 33, of Muskegon is a single mom with two kids, who works part time at a fast food chain and earns minimum wage. “By the time I pay for gas to get to and from work, there’s not much left of my pay check.  Raising the minimum wage could do a lot for mothers like me,” she said. “I see people evicted from their homes because they don’t earn enough to pay their rent, and during this cold, cold winter, I see children whose parents can’t afford to dress them warmly enough.”

A final decision to proceed is expected within days. The proposal would likely aim to change a state statute, not change the state constitution. The minimum wage would rise to the “ballpark” of between $9 and $10.10 an hour and be indexed to inflation, Houston said.

Republicans have said hiking the minimum wage would hurt employers’ ability to hire people. The restaurant industry says it already operates on thin margins and argues sharply higher wages would lead to steeper prices.

“If Michigan increases the cost of employing entry-level workers, lower-skilled workers will see less job opportunities because employers will be forced to hire higher-skilled job applicants to fill multiple roles or cut jobs to absorb the costs associated with the increase,” said Wendy Block, director of health policy and human resources for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

The group said businesses already are grappling with costs associated with the federal health care law and that government should focus on helping people get jobs, not make it more expensive to hire them.

“People who work hard, shouldn’t have to wait for out of touch politicians to act and do the right thing – and raise the minimum wage,” said Rebecca Hatley-Watkins, 23, of Kalamazoo, who is married, the mother of one and a Michigan United member. “If you work full-time you shouldn’t live in poverty.”

Said  Cori Johnson, a 24 year-old mother of one in Detroit, “It is impossible to raise a child on a job that pays minimum wage. I worked full time and still only brought home one third of the amount I needed to get a decent apartment. Not to mention childcare costs. Sometimes it feels like I am just working to pay someone else to raise my child.”

In November, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer proposed increasing the hourly minimum to $9.25 over three years. He said it would aid the consumer-driven economy by putting more money in employees’ pockets and give low-wage workers the same buying power as 1968, when the wage had its highest purchasing power.

A message seeking comment was left by the AP for Republican Gov. Snyder, who is up for re-election.

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Lon Johnson, who has wanted to avoid ballot issues this year to stay focused on candidate campaigns, said in a statement that it was not surprising to see “a lot of energy surrounding this issue. Democrats at all levels are fighting to increase the minimum wage because we believe that people who work hard and play by the rules deserve a fair shot at supporting themselves and their families.”

Jóvenes defensores de los derechos de inmigración de Kalamazoo se reunirán y marcharán con 60 iconos de los derechos civiles en Washington D.C.

Portal Michigan Latinos, November 17, 2013
El clero, líderes comunitarios envían a familias del Oeste de Michigan a D.C. para la “Cruzada nacional de niños por la reforma migratoria”

KALAMAZOO – El Clero y líderes comunitarios enviaron a tres familias del área de Kalamazoo hacia Washington DC. Las familias y sus hijos participarán en la “Cruzada nacional de niños por la reforma migratoria”, junto con otras cincuenta familias seleccionadas de todo el país incluyendo seis de Michigan.

“Mi padre fue deportado en junio. Me puso triste, enojado, y me duele. Tal vez usted no sabe lo que es eso, pero puedo decir que es terrible”, dijo Esteban Reaser, estudiante de 11 años de edad de Kalamazoo cuyo padre fue deportado en junio. “Fuimos a ver a nuestro congresista, Fred Upton y dijo que sería parte de la solución. La gente que trabaja en el Congreso solo está poniendo excusas para no ayudar. No les importa que mi familia realmente sufra”.

Los estudiantes participarán en una marcha por la reforma, así como acciones adicionales para presionar a los Representantes para aprobar una reforma este año y estudiantes del suroeste de Michigan también se reunirán con el representante Fred Upton.

“Nuestra comunidad es la comunidad de la Promesa de Kalamazoo,” dijo Bob Jorth, director ejecutivo de la Promesa de Kalamazoo. “Para los estudiantes, una parte importante que debe aprovecharse de esa Promesa es tener una familia estable y solidaria. La reforma migratoria es clave para eso”.

Todos los jóvenes y sus familias se reunirán con los iconos de los derechos civiles de los años 60, muchos de los cuales eran menores de edad cuando tomaron diversas acciones no violentas para derrotar a las leyes injustas de todo el país. Defensores hoy en día solo se centran en uno de los partidos, en una sección de la legislatura que se interpone entre ellos y la reunificación familiar.

“Los republicanos dicen que la familia es muy importante y dicen que debe empezar una reforma migratoria, pero los republicanos en la Cámara de Representantes todavía no han hecho nada con la reforma migratoria”, dijo Vianey Urbina, una estudiante de 17 años de edad de Sturgis que se dirige a D.C. “me separaron de mi padre cinco años, cuando llegó por primera vez para ofrecer una vida mejor. Si nuestra familia fuera destrozada una vez más, nos rompería en pedazos. No me gustaría que mi hermanita tuviera que pasar por la separación que yo tuve que pasar”.


Workers Rally in Lansing for Higher Minimum Wage

Detroit Free Press September. 18, 2013

LANSING — About 150 people from around the state rallied in downtown Lansing on Wednesday to urge Michigan lawmakers to raise the state’s minimum wage.

Workers say they can’t earn a living wage on $7.40 an hour, Michigan’s mandatory minimum for hourly workers.

“Our hard-working families can’t make ends meet no matter how hard they try when they’re working for minimum wage,” Kalamazoo business owner Nick Boyd said to the exuberant crowd of demonstrators. “We have to have a fair wage in the state of Michigan.”

Working full time on Michigan’s minimum wage equates to an annual salary of $15,400 before taxes. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines poverty as earning $15,510 a year less for two-person households and earning $23,550 a year for four-person households.

The “day of action” was sponsored by Michigan United, a coalition of labor unions and progressive groups that often organizes demonstrations at the Capitol. The demonstrators wanted Michigan lawmakers to sign a pledge supporting an increase in the minimum wage.

Democratic lawmakers introduced bills earlier this year — one in the Senate, two in the House — to incrementally raise Michigan’s minimum wage to either $9 or $10 an hour over the next couple years.

The bills have been referred to legislative committees but haven’t been taken up yet by the Republican-led legislature. And it’s unlikely — at least in the short term — that they ever will.

“It’s not a priority, given everything else that we’re focused on right now,” said Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall.

“We have a lot of things we want to accomplish that will focus on making it easier and less expensive to do business in Michigan, because we believe that will create more jobs,” Adler said. “If you force additional costs on employers, you will often see a decline in the number of jobs available or the number of hours available to those working already.”

Kristen M. Daum is a state government reporter for the Lansing State Journal. Contact her at kdaum@lsj.com

Harmful Bills Shorten Foreclosure Time Limits

From the Lansing State Journal, May 30, 2013

LANSING — An effort by Republicans in the state Senate to change Michigan’s foreclosure laws has drawn ire from community activists who claim the proposals could lead to thousands of Michigan homeowners being thrown out in the street.

Twenty members of Michigan United — a coalition of 50 community groups and unions — protested at the state Capitol on Tuesday in opposition to one of four bills introduced last week.

Senate Bill 383, proposed by Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, would reduce the foreclosure redemption period from six months to 60 days — a move critics say would make it more difficult for residents to fight financial institutions that try to take their properties.

“As we are trying to climb out of our financial holes, the passing of this bill would literally be a hard and fast kick in the gut to struggling homeowners,” said coalition member Debbi Adams, of Detroit.

Adams successfully fought a foreclosure on her home.

“If it it hadn’t been for the six-month redemption period, I would’ve lost it,” Adams said. “I needed every one of those six months to negotiate with the bank.”

“It all falls to the bottom line of the bank and the cost of doing business,” Booher said.

Protesters: Clean Up Allied Paper PCB’s

From WOOD-TV Channel 8 News, MAY 30, 2013

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Dozens of Kalamazoo residents marched Wednesday evening in protest of the federal government’s plans to cover over a contaminated waste site instead of cleaning it up.

The waste site in question is the Allied Paper plant site, located on Alcott Street in Kalamazoo. In the soil are PBCs, a cancer-causing chemical left over from Kalamazoo’s paper industry, which was at its height during the Industrial Revolution.

“They’re not good,” Wally Wordelman, age 5, explained. “But people never knew they were using these bad chemicals to make the paper.”

One of the most passionate protesters, Wally didn’t actually march. He rode on his dad’s shoulders.

Kalamazoo PCB Protest Urges Action By EPA

Listen live at WMUK:


Officials from the City of Kalamazoo head to Chicago Thursday, May 16th, to meet with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They’re looking for answers about the future of PCB contamination in the Allied Paper Landfill. City officials, residents, and groups including the Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition and Michigan United held a march and rally Wednesday urging the EPA to remove all of the toxic waste.

Michigan United rallies for Congress to pass immigration reform bill

From the Detroit News:

Shouting “Pass that bill” and carrying signs reading “Keeping families together,” local activists Wednesday called for lawmakers to pass an immigration reform bill they say would lift burdensome restrictions, allow foreign-born workers to stay in their communities and boost the economy.

“We’re here today because we know that it is not right to hold 11 million undocumented workers hostage,” Pastor Charles Williams Sr. of the National Action Network said to cheers during a press conference on the steps of St. Gabriel Catholic Church in southwest Detroit.

The event was organized by Michigan United, a statewide coalition of churches, labor and community groups that advocates for immigration reform, fair housing and worker rights.

It came the same day the 844-page bipartisan bill was introduced.

The “Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013” would dramatically remake the U.S. immigration system, ushering in new visa programs for low- and high-skilled workers, requiring a tough new focus on border security, instituting a new requirement for all employers to check the legal status of their workers and installing a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.

Those who have been deported would have the opportunity to come back to the U.S. if their spouses or children are in the country.

Some Republicans criticized the bill as amnesty, while some groups on the left said it was unnecessarily punitive.

President Barack Obama said the bill is a compromise that doesn’t give anyone everything they want. But he urged the Senate to move it forward.

Supporters with Michigan United and other groups across Metro Detroit said the legislation would keep immigrant families together. “This bill is a way for families to be reunited,” Williams said.

The push for the reform is especially urgent for Arlen Villanueva-Ordoñez, a single mother of two originally from Honduras. The Belleville resident, who has been in the U.S. for more than a decade, faces deportation proceedings next month.

She has no criminal record, works full time and pays taxes every year, said her attorney, Brad Thomson. Her youngest child, who was born here, has life-threatening food allergies and a skin condition that renders him sensitive to UV radiation. Villanueva-Ordoñez also has health issues and fears she would have inadequate medical care in her homeland.

Deportation would destroy her family, she said. “I don’t want to be separated from them because that is my life.”

Grand Rapids Joins National Push for Reform

From MLive:

GRAND RAPIDS, MI—Many of the more than 100 West Michigan residents who traveled to Washington, D.C. for today’s national immigration reform rally hope their show of solidarity is rewarded with a comprehensive immigration bill.

They hope the gathering will pressure their representatives to change the law and allow 11 million unauthorized immigrants to legally stay in the county and provide them a pathway to citizenship.

The West Michigan contingent, who were to arrive at the nation’s capital Wednesday morning after an overnight bus trip, are a diverse group pushing for a common goal. Some want to see immigrants be granted the same opportunity they were handed years ago.

Hundreds of Michigan Residents Head to DC Immigration Rally

From MLive: http://www.freep.com/article/20130409/NEWS06/304090208/national-immigration-rally-Michigan

About 500 immigrants and their supporters left tonight from Michigan on 14 buses headed to Washington, D.C. for a national immigration rally tomorrow.

The buses left from Dearborn, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor for a rally in the nation’s capital calling for immigration reform that they hope will offer the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. a clear path to citizenship.

Members of the immigrant group Michigan United and the union United Auto Workers are among the hundreds from Michigan on their way to Washington D.C. for the demonstration. They are also expected to meet with Congressman to push for immigration reform.